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Berkeley is my new Cambridge, now where do I eat?

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I'm brand new in the Bay Area, just moved into my apt in North Berkeley after having spent the last four years working in Cambridge, MA. I've been through a number of the "where do I eat" threads and was hoping to hear some slightly different input here. Understandably, I'll never find places which are exactly the same as my old haunts back in Mass, but for when I'm feeling homesick a close resemblance will do. So, that said, which local restaurants might best approximate the following:

Ten Tables: high value contemporary American, always a very nice meal, well prepared and presented, slightly dressed up but still casual atmosphere, great 3rd date spot.
Craigie St: that one special restaurant which will blow your socks off and eat your wallet.
Greet St: a bar which knows how to make a proper sazerac, which has 5 types of bitters, and whose bartenders can figure out what you might like after a few drinks. And a great bar menu.
Greek Corner: lamb gyros. That is all.
Brookline Lunch: dirt cheap greasy spoon diner/cafe serving breakfast all day.
Blue Room (lunch): summer grill pit, cash only, plastic plates, excellent food.
Mike's Pizza: family run, counter service pizzeria with a bar, and where they'll remember your name.
Anna's Taqueria: somewhere tasty where $5 will guarantee you'll be full till your next meal.
Blue Ribbon: vegans be damned, good southern barbecue

If anyone else has lived both places, any other comparisons would be welcome, I feel like I've eaten at most of Cambridge's restaurants.

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  1. Here are some North Berkeley threads to start.

    1 Reply
    1. re: wolfe

      The only place I've eaten on your list is Craigie. I enjoyed my meal a lot (the tasting menu), but it didn't blow my socks off. I only ate their once, but I didn't feel like it was an off night or anything. If that is your gold standard for food, then I think you will be pleased in this neighborhood, especially when it comes to fresh produce in your meals. (This has been an unseasonably cool year and even here, the summer produce hasn't been at its peak.) I liked the comfortable atmosphere there, and while I'd say that Commis is similar in some regards, Craigie is a more comfortable place to dine. If you want a relatively inexpensive and not bad similar concept to Commis close to home, try eVe on University. And your wallet won't hate you if it isn't your thing.

      3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

    2. Hi, Cambridge is a place a grew up, but I'm not familiar with any of the places you mentioned. That being said, here are some places you should consider.

      1) "high value contemporary American" - eVe, B and Luka's in Oakland.
      2) "that one special restaurant" - need to narrow it down a little.
      3) "a bar which knows how to make a proper sazerac" - Cesar has the best sazerac, but they're too busy to give you personalized attention. Fonda is much more personalized, but doesn't mix quite as well. A Cote down in oakland isn't bad, somewhere between the two. Try those and report back.
      4) lamb gyros don't exist here. But, lamb schwarma does - but not in berkeley. Closest to berkeley is Simply Med right at the 16th mission bart station.
      5) greasy spoon - nope.
      6) Blue room - try Smokehouse, even though it doesn't fit.
      7) Mike's pizza - try Lanesplitter San Pablo. Friendliest beer and best pizza.
      8) $5 and full - there's a couple of taquerias downtown.
      9) Blue Ribbon - I think they're as good as T-Rex.

      A Cote
      5478 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

      15 Replies
      1. re: bbulkow

        What substitutes for Elsie's?

        1. re: wolfe

          Elsie's on Mt. Auburn? Thought that closed down years ago.

          1. re: Spatlese

            Probably, gives you an idea of when my last visit to Cambridge was, 45 years and I remember a sandwich joint.

        2. re: bbulkow

          Closest to Berkeley for the lamb shwarma is Oasis in Oakland at Telegraph and 34th(ish).

          1. re: JasmineG

            Does Zaki do shwarma?

            Zaki Kabob House
            1101 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

            1. re: kc72

              They do have a lamb shwarma. I've never had it, but everything else I've tried there has been very good.

            2. re: JasmineG

              I like the gyros at Simply Greek, on Piedmont Ave. in Oakland. I believe they're beef and lamb. Good tzatziki. And the fries that come with the gyro plate are very good as well.

              Simply Greek
              4060 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

              1. re: JasmineG

                The schwerma at Oasis Market is great, maybe equal to Truly Med in SF.

                Oasis Market
                3045 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Much overlooked is Jersulem Organic at the top of Solano, too.

                  What was I thinking.

                  Schwerma is so much better than lousy Lamb Gyros. You'll be insufferable when you next visit boston. All of these places are cheap, some more than others.

                2. re: JasmineG

                  For lamb gyros or shwarmas near campus there is Sunshine Deli on Bancroft and another popular spot (can't remember the name) between Teagraph and the Durant food court on Durant.

                  1. re: Civil Bear

                    You mean Sunrise Deli? They make great falafels.

                    Sunrise Deli
                    2456 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Yes, my mistake. It is Sunrise Deli.

                      Sunrise Deli
                      2456 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

                    2. re: Civil Bear

                      Sunrise deli is very good. The place on Durant was horrible.

                  2. re: bbulkow

                    Turkish Kitchen's lamb and beef doner could make a reasonable substitute for a gyro if you're not too culturally insular.

                    Turkish Kitchen
                    1984 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      Thanks for the breakdown. I'm just a poor grad student at the moment, so my standards for "special restaurants" are limited by my meager stipend. I'll be sure the check these out and I'll probably be at Cesar for a drink this evening.

                    2. for Anna's Taqueria, I would to Gordo's. The owners are cousins or something like that; the owner of Anna's based his burrito on the Gordo's one.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: vulber

                        I use to live near a Gordo's, very decent grub, right price but really only a neighborhood joint. Cancun Taqueria in downtown Berkeley is much better and it's not not even that great in context to other places.

                        1. re: ML8000

                          note that i didn't comment on teh quality of gordo's, just the similarities to anna's. there are way better burritos around.

                          1. re: vulber

                            Post aimed more at OP...indeed there's WAY better Mexican food and burritos and to settle for Gordo's/Anna's is just that, settling.

                            To the OP...I have no idea about the places in Cambridge/Boston mentioned but there's WAY better food. As mentioned, just get produce or foods that require produce and you'll know you're in California.

                            1. re: ML8000

                              Also settling but with beer is Cactus Taqueria at the top of Solano.

                              1. re: wolfe

                                As someone else mentioned, the Cactus on College is better than the Cactus on Solano, and I think it's a pretty high quality taqueria. I like all of their food, they have good flavors, and I really like that they have good practices with regard to sustainable meat and fish (and are very responsive to customer questions about that).

                                1. re: JasmineG

                                  You big silly, it was you.;-)

                                  1. re: wolfe

                                    Not me, it was amydeastbay below!

                                    1. re: JasmineG

                                      That's today, this is 3 years ago in the link.
                                      Thanks for the report. I've consistently found the Cactus Taqueria on College Avenue to be much better than the one on Solano, so you might want to try that one on your next trip, if you don't want to give it up completely.
                                      By JasmineG on Aug 19, 2007 08:47PM

                          2. re: ML8000

                            Cancun has its own farm, which I think is unique in the East Bay.


                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Cancun also has a pretty spectacular salsa bar.

                        2. I can't say I've run into an Anna's Taqueria type burrito around here. The burritos here are just enormous compared to Anna's and they are a bit more costly. I've tried to just change the stuff I eat here so as not to bring comparison. Instead of burritos, I eat soft tacos. Papusas and arepas are a new favorite. There isn't a Blue Ribbon counterpart here. We actually go back to MA every year and eat there! But there is nothing like the Berkeley Bowl or farmer's markets in the winter in MA. Lots of fun things to try here.

                          Berkeley Bowl
                          2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

                          1. I also moved out here from Boston and can offer suggestions that compare to some of the places on your list. I ate at Ten Tables in Cambridge this summer (I'd been to the JP location before I moved) and think Rivoli on Solano Ave. may be a good option in Berkeley. Similar prices, changing menu, nice but not too dressy (this is Berkeley, after all!). As someone else suggested, Commis might be the closest thing to fit the Craigie St. category (both with Food & Wine Best New Chefs and high prices, although Commis may actually be cheaper). In place of Anna's Taqueria (although I went to the Brookline location a few times and never liked it, and Boston-area Mexican food isn't generally good), I'd suggest Cactus Taqueria in Rockridge (I'm less fond of the Solano Ave. location) as having a similar price point, list of menu items, and portion size. The salsas at Cactus are varied and pretty good, and I give the place a nod for some care in the quality of its meat and fish. As far as a Blue Ribbon substitute, there isn't one anywhere in the Bay Area (you'll be really disappointed if you try T Rex in Berkeley; Memphis Minnie's in SF, which some people like, also didn't come close to Blue Ribbon). Like another person who responded, I try to get to Blue Ribbon when I'm back in Boston.

                            Rivoli Restaurant
                            1539 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707

                            3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                            1. I can't think of a bar with counter-service pizza, but the closest thing would probably be Lanespliter on San Pablo. Only beer and wine, but definitely a pub atmosphere, at least later in the evening after the kids go home. One of the best places to drink beer in town.